Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Moderation is not necessarily in the public’s best interest

Is a two-party system preferable to a multi-party system?
Author: Dr. Kevin J. Minch ( United States ) Assistant Professor of Communication and Director of Forensics, Truman State University, Kirksville, Missouri. Created: Wednesday, September 17, 2003
Where two-party systems have emerged it is either the result, or reflection of the will of the electorate. Often the two parties represent key ideological divisions within society over the direction of policy, e.g. between left and right, small government and activist government, liberalism and authoritarianism. Most voters have little interest in the minutiae of policy, but they can understand the broad political choices presented them by a two-party system and make their decisions at election time accordingly.
While ideology and the will of the electorate may have been a factor at one stage in the development of a two-party democracy, these are historic factors that limit political progress today. The cold war with its left/right divisions is over and ideological labels are increasingly meaningless as, for example, traditional parties of the left have embraced the market. Such historic precedents mean that third parties often find it difficult to emerge later, even if they have a decent following. The dominant parties tend to shape electoral rules to the exclusion of smaller parties, and the more dominant parties tend to be the most successful at raising funds. This eventually reduces the choice of the electorate.
Governments in two party systems are more able to drive their policies through the legislature as they have a clear majority of the representatives there. This means they can implement important changes quickly and without compromise.
Multi-party systems tend to produce coalition governments which have to work to balance interests and produce a consensus around the need for change. This makes it more likely that such changes will be accepted by the country at large and not reversed at the next election.
Because two-party systems tend to be less volatile in terms of election results, voters retain their representatives as incumbents longer. This means the level of experience of legislators is greater. This results in better and more consistent policy, and more effective scrutiny of the executive.
Incumbency can mean complacency. The longer people hold office, the more comfortable they become and the less likely they are to take risks and make controversial decisions. They can even end up "captured" by lobbyists and losing touch with their electorate. The freer marketplace of ideas in a multi-party system forces politicians to adapt their message and become more responsive to minority voices.
Two-party systems are more stable. Because parliamentary majorities in multi-party systems can shift suddenly, those systems are far less stable. Multi-party systems are also less fair to the electorate, as the government and policies formed after an election are often the result of backroom deals between parties, not on the basis of manifesto promises and the number of votes cast.
The threat of a no-confidence vote, a collapsing coalition, or the departure of a coalition partner from a governing majority forces leaders to make compromises and compromises make for policies that serve the interest of the majority of the voters. Moreover, most countries have mechanisms in their constitutions to ensure a relatively smooth transition to a new government and new elections.
Two-party systems better reflect mainstream, centrist views. In order to remain competitive with only one other competitor, parties will tend to moderate their platforms.
Moderation is not necessarily in the public’s best interest. A multi-party system helps to ensure the views of a variety of different interests are considered when policy is made. Voters get more of a choice in the platforms they wish to support in a multi-party structure, ensuring that minority groups’ interests have a voice in the political process.

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